Deficit Reduction and FY 2013 Funding for the Courts
A. The Budget Control Act.
The Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 provided a blueprint to reduce the federal deficit by over $2 trillion by 2021. It imposed caps on discretionary programs to reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion and directed Congress to craft a bipartisan plan to achieve an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by 2021. The “super-committee” tasked with this assignment in 2011 failed to produce a plan. This triggered a fallback mechanism requiring across-the-board budget cuts in 2013. From 2014 through 2021, it mandated reductions to the annual caps on discretionary spending as well as automatic cuts to selected entitlement programs in each year.
B. FY 2013 Funding: Sequestration Reduces Funding by $350 Million
FY 2013 sequestration, which reduced the budget of the judiciary by $350 million, had a devastating impact on federal court operations nationwide. Flat funding in FY 2011 and FY 2012, followed by sequestration, required the judiciary to downsize staff in the offices of clerks of courts and probation and pretrial services by 3,200 (nearly 15 percent) and in federal defender offices by 400 (11 percent). These staffing losses have resulted in the slower processing of cases: since 2011, the median time from filing to disposition of civil cases increased from 7.3 months to 8.5 months. In addition, funding for court security systems was cut by 30 percent, and court security officers were required to reduce their work hours. Two weeks of voucher payments to CJA panel attorneys had to be deferred until 2014 and funding for jurors ran out in August, requiring the courts to transfer funding from other accounts already facing shortfalls.
For more information on sequestration and the courts, see the AO’s page on sequestration at: http://news.uscourts.gov/issues/sequestration
C. The Road to FY 2014 Funding: Government Shutdown, a Continuing Resolution, and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013
The failure of the House and Senate to agree on a stopgap continuing resolution to keep the government financed at FY 2013 levels through the fall led to a Government shutdown on October 1, 2013 -- the start of the 2014 fiscal year.
The judiciary, unlike most other federal entities, did not have to implement a shutdown plan because the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the U.S. Courts authorized the use of funding from filing fees and long-term ("no-year") appropriations to keep the courts in operation, albeit in a reduced state of operations.
The 16-day government shutdown ended October 17 when President Obama signed a continuing resolution that funded the government through January 15, 2014, and instructed a conference committee to develop a bipartisan budget plan by December.
While keeping most of the government at its reduced FY 2013 levels, the continuing resolution provided an additional $51 million for the federal judiciary -- $25 million for court operations and $26 million to pay court-appointed public defenders owed money for services rendered during the last two weeks of FY 2013.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 established new spending levels for both FY 2014 and FY 2015 that raised the discretionary caps imposed by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 to $1.012 trillion in FY 2014 and $1.014 trillion in 2015 and instructed that the extra funds were to be split evenly between defense and non-defense discretionary spending. The new FY 2014 cap provided an additional $45 million in discretionary spending authority, an amount sufficient to enable the appropriators to restore some funding cuts and agree on a final spending measure for FY 2014.
Three and one-half months after the fiscal year started, the President was presented with and signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, funding the federal government for the fiscal year ending September 2014.